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The Compass and the tune

There are some brilliant poems, interviews and concise and astute reviews over on The Compass magazine. I can highly recommend it, and am pleased that my review of three marvellous début collections will be published there in the next week or so.

Last night I found myself putting together a list of ‘qualities’ a good poem might have. It is not of course, an exhaustive list. Here it is.

Immediacy, surprise, power, urgency, longevity, violence, beauty, tranquility, humour, clarity, ambiguity, transcendence, disturbance, delight.

Then I was thinking about how to articulate the idea of a poems ‘music’- the rhythm that we can hear when a poem is read aloud- the rhythm and sounds that drive it,  the rhythm that is sometimes just ‘right’ and to which we connect, perhaps because the heart is the first sound we hear, perhaps because the rhythm of the poem echoes and connects us to the rhythm of our bodies, perhaps because lullabies sooth our earliest days, (although maybe now many infants have the rhythms of the virtual world to entertain and lull them). Anyway, I was thinking about the quality of sound in poetry when I broke off to read John Foggin’s latest review for The Compass and found this.

‘For the record, at poetry readings it’s the tune I hear first. The words come after. It’s the rhythm, the space of vowels, the textures of consonants. It’s the authentic accent, the distinctive voice.’ 

So here, in John’s inimitable and inherently musical style, is a statement of how for him the ‘tune’ comes first. And perhaps in order to shut out the noise of the world, to compell and to inhabit us, at least for the duration of our listening or reading (if the poem manages the miraculous feat of conveying its tune silently from the page) it is the music of the poem which must carry everything else.

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